I hate shorts. I don’t care if it’s a hundred and five degrees out. I really hate them. I’m never gonna wear shorts again. Because we were so poor. I was the youngest of seven living children, with some ghosts in between us, you know, the babies who didn’t make it. And we had enough clothes for maybe three kids, but there were seven of us living. So when my older brothers wore out their pants and the knees were all ripped out, my Mom would just be like, oh, that’s okay, we can just cut them off and Baby can wear them. And guess who Baby was? Yup. Me. Oh, it was warm enough. The problem was that nobody wore shorts except the poorest of the poor, and that was me. It was a mark of shame, like having no underwear or torn shoes. I’ll never forget it.
I can still look down and see my skinny, knobby little knees. One or the other always had a scab on it, sometimes both of them did. Dusty and dirty and one sock that was falling down because it wasn’t the same size as the other one. When I even had two socks. My wife makes fun of me for being such a Junior now, you know, dressing up nicely with a neatly pressed shirt and a pair of slacks. But honey, at least I iron my own clothes, right? Because it means a lot to me. It means the world. It means I have enough to eat, and a safe place to live, and my kids have enough to eat, and we don’t have to feel ashamed about anything like that. Because God knows I wouldn’t buy myself nice clothes unless my family was already fed, housed and clothed! I still remember exactly how I felt as a poor little guy.
Do I have a little shoe-shine kit? Yes, I do. Do I like to have pants that are a little bit shiny and don’t wrinkle? Yes again. Do you see my knees if I am not wearing a hospital gown? No, Ma’am! Because I have two clean knees and nice pants to cover them. My wife here can giggle all she wants. I know she understands me, even when she jokes about it. Ask her about her one dress and the missing button. Go on, baby, tell the interpreter about the safety pin you had to use. And how you looked all over for that button. For weeks! And then finally figured out it must be three miles down the river from where your Mom washed your clothes. Far out of your reach. You remember. These memories go deep.
We’ve come a long way, not just on the map, you know, but in what we can provide for our family. So if anybody wonders why our kids look like they’re dressed for church just to come to the hospital, now they know the reason. We’re not raising them to be proud, God forbid, but we never want them to feel ashamed of something that’s not their fault, like poverty. I promised my wife I would take good care of her if she joined me here, and so far I have. And that’s a good feeling. That’s something to dress up for.